Indigenous leaders demand an apology and reparations from King Charles

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Melbourne, Australia – On the eve of King Charles’ coronation, Indigenous leaders around the world have called on the British monarch to apologize and make amends for what they call ‘genocide’.

A joint letter published Friday by 12 indigenous advocacy groups in former British colonies demanded that the new king “recognize the horrific consequences and legacy of genocide and colonization of the indigenous and enslaved peoples of Antigua and Barbuda, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Australia, The Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines”.

The letter also listed key demands, including a formal apology, the repatriation of indigenous peoples’ remains and cultural artifacts, financial reparations, and requests for the king to “help our communities recover from centuries of racism, oppression, colonialism and slavery.” “.

Rawiri Waititi, co-leader of New Zealand’s Te Pāti Māori (Māori party) and a signatory to the letter, told Al Jazeera that “Indigenous peoples around the world are speaking out to ensure that the Crown takes full responsibility for the consequences, the damage and the pain it caused.

British colonization began in the late 16th century and at its peak in 1922, the United Kingdom, with the monarch as head of state, ruled over 450 million people across almost a quarter of the world.

Indigenous peoples in colonies such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada were severely harmed by the invasion of their traditional lands, and thousands were killed as the British tried to cement control over the territories they had taken. Indigenous peoples were also exposed to new diseases, while punitive assimilation policies led to the loss of language and culture and the forced removal of children in policies that continued into the second half of the 20th century.

Communities in the Caribbean were affected in similar ways, as slavery uprooted millions from Africa to work on the islands’ sugar plantations.

This effect of these actions, which the joint signatories describe as “crimes against humanity”, resulted in an intergenerational legacy of trauma and inequality in key social indicators such as high incarceration rates and endemic poverty in affected Indigenous communities.

Maori party leader Rawiri Waititi outside the New Zealand parliament.  He has traditional Maori facial tattoos.
Maori leader Rawiri Waititi wants the British crown to take full responsibility for the “impact, damage and pain it caused” [File: Nick Perry/AP Photo]

Waititi described this legacy as “the tail of the monarchy that floats the Indigenous peoples today”.

“We ring the bell [King Charles the Third] I apologize for that,” he said. “Because once he apologizes for the genocide [and] the colonization of indigenous peoples around the world and the enslavement of our people by its empire, then we can begin to address [contemporary] issues.”

Artifacts, bodies taken

In recent speeches, Charles has acknowledged the monarchy’s role in colonization, but has made no formal apology or commitment to action.

In a speech last November to the South African government in which he referred to Britain’s colonial past, the king acknowledged that there were “elements of that history which caused deep sorrow”, adding that it was “essential that we tried to understand”.

“We must acknowledge the mistakes that shaped our past if we are to unlock the power of our common future,” he said.

The rule of the British Empire also resulted in the theft of valuable cultural artifacts and even the bodies of indigenous peoples, which remain as “exhibits” in various museums overseas.

A joint study between the Australian National University and the British Museum conducted between 2016 and 2019 found about 38,400 Indigenous Australian objects in institutions in the UK and about 600 in Ireland.

Last year, the Australian federal government announced a new cultural district in the country’s capital, Canberra, called Ngurra – meaning “home” in indigenous languages, including Ngaanyatjarra and Pitjantjatjara.

The district will also contain a national resting place for the remains of indigenous ancestors brought from global museums and institutions.

In addition to demands for cultural and physical repatriation, the joint letter also calls for financial reparations to reflect the stolen wealth of indigenous and enslaved peoples.

Like other European empires and their respective monarchs, British wealth increased significantly through the exploitation of land, labor and resources in the colonies.

As Indigenous peoples in former colonies grapple with poverty — the legacy of colonization, according to Waititi — Forbes magazine recently estimated that King Charles’s personal wealth amounted to “at least $500 million in personal assets with another $46 billion in trust as the sovereign “.

Whether the king will respond to the groups’ demands is not clear, but this is not the first time indigenous peoples have petitioned a British monarch directly.

As early as 1846, the Tasmanian Aboriginal people petitioned Queen Victoria regarding the crown’s failure to enforce a treaty agreement.

Lidia Thorpe stands in a garden and smiles.
Australian Indigenous Senator Lidia Thorpe said the damaging effect of colonization is still felt by Indigenous peoples [Courtesy of Lidia Thorpe]

In 1935, Indigenous Australian leader and activist William Cooper wrote to King George V and attached a petition signed by 1,814 Indigenous people, asking “His Majesty would intercede through the Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia… to prevent the extinction of the Aboriginal”. race”.

In 1977, Indigenous Australian activist and leader Michael Mansfield personally presented Queen Elizabeth II with a letter demanding land rights.

Opportunity to ‘reset the relationship’

The latest letter was also signed by Australian Indigenous Senator Lidia Thorpe, who heads the Blak Sovereign Movement, and former Indigenous Senator and sportswoman Nova Peris, who also represents the Australian Republic Movement.

In a separate statement, Thorpe said that “the British monarchy oversaw the oppression of First Nations peoples in British colonies around the world. The appalling effects of British colonization, including the genocide of our people, the theft of our land and the degradation of our culture, are still being felt.”

Thorpe also demanded that the Australian government implement a treaty and truth-telling process, cut ties with the crown and become a republic.

While Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said he is “not a monarchist” and has even installed an assistant minister for the Republic, he has also stated that he will take the oath of allegiance to the new king at Saturday’s coronation. to swear.

In addition to letters and petitions to successive monarchs, Indigenous peoples in Australia have also long sought the formal recognition of genocide on the continent.

Widespread massacres took place across Australia after British colonization – the last occurred in 1927 – about half of which were led by police forces.

The devastation of colonization was so great in the Australian state of Victoria that in 1929 official records put the number of remaining so-called ‘full-blooded’ Indigenous people at 53 and the number of ‘half-castes’ at 607.

About 30,000 indigenous people were thought to live in the region before the arrival of the British, as high as 60,000 by some estimates.

A 1997 report, Bringing Them Home, also concluded that the removal of up to 100,000 Indigenous children from their families between 1900 and 1970 for assimilation purposes amounted to genocide.

The finding was vehemently rejected by Australia’s then Conservative Prime Minister John Howard, who reiterated as late as 2014 that “I didn’t believe genocide had happened, and I still don’t believe it.”

Waititi told Al Jazeera that without a formal apology and acknowledgment of the groups’ demands, King Charles III would be “just another monarch who will continue to ignore the plight of indigenous peoples around the world.”

Co-signer Chief Terry Teegee of Canada’s British Columbia Assembly of First Nations stressed that the May 6 coronation was “an opportunity to restore the relationship between the crown and the indigenous peoples”.

“We urge the Crown to take our concerns seriously and work with us on concrete actions to address a history and a current reality that continue to impact the lives of countless people,” he said.

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